What is a Religious Studies Degree?

Because we live in such diverse multi-cultural and multi-religious societies, it is important to understand how different people and belief systems can work and live together successfully. Those wanting to pursue a degree in religious studies are interested in studying religion from an academic point of view. What this means is considering all religions and religious traditions equally with the purpose of understanding each belief system in relation to each other. As a religious studies major, students develop the ability to be empathetic when looking at the religious viewpoints and cultures of other human beings.

Please note that religious studies is not the same as theological studies. The study of theology mainly focuses on the study of God (or deities) and faith. The study of religion focuses on the study of all religions, religious behavior, and belief systems from outside any particular religious viewpoint.

As a field, religious studies uses strong analytical and original thinking skills similar to other academic fields, including philosophy, psychology, history, sociology, and anthropology. Degree programs may cover topics such as:

  • religion in culture
  • religious ethics
  • religious philosophy
  • world religions

Graduates can choose from a wide range of careers - some religion-based, and some not based in religion at all. Examples are:

Program Options

Religious studies is available at multiple degree levels. Which one to pursue depends on what you want to learn from your program and what you’d like to do with your degree after graduation. The following are some of the options available when it comes to religious studies degrees.

Associate Degree in Religious Studies - Two Year Duration
This degree is for students who want a preliminary introduction to the theories and concepts of various religions in the world. Students will study religious texts, decipher passages in the scriptures, and debate the fact and fiction behind religious beliefs. Courses offered will vary depending on the school, however there will be standard courses such as: an introduction to world religions, philosophy, social studies, English, and world history.

Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Studies - Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, students will be studying world history from a religious viewpoint. They will also be engaging in a comparative study of the world’s religions and cultures, and will see how each religion has impacted the world to date. Each religion will be broken down by personal, societal, and global significance. Courses offered during this four-year program may include: world history, approaches to religion, humanities, arts and design, statistics, and cultural awareness. Students can also expect to study English, literature, and math to cover basic core curriculum requirements for graduation.

Master’s Degree in Religious Studies - Two to Three Year Duration
Students who look at pursuing a master’s program in religious studies may be wanting a future career in the clergy, in research, or in academics. Classes focus on inspiring students to look for their own answers to the historical, philosophical, social, and comparative questions concerning the religions in the world. Classes may include: ethics in religion, religious doctrines, religious law, cultural differences in religion, and the study of modern societies.

PhD in Religious Studies - Three to Five Year Duration
Typically, individuals who seek to pursue a Ph.D. in Religious Studies are looking to secure careers as university professors, researchers, consultants, or community/religious leaders. A PhD in Religious Studies gives students an opportunity to pursue a course of study where they immerse themselves in exploring their chosen topic of interest and focus on research to discover new approaches to examining religion. Students may conduct research individually or in teams.

Degrees Similar to Religious Studies

Theology has been around for hundreds of years, and focuses on educating students to be able to attain clerical roles within their own religious beliefs and traditions. If you are involved in a religious practice and you would like to join with others who share your desire to dig deeper into your belief system, you may want to consider majoring in theology.

Theology majors study a particular religious faith in depth by examining that faith’s belief systems, teachings, practices, history, ethics, and present-day religious community (and they also study other faiths). Theology degrees are offered mostly by Catholic schools - some schools offer a Bachelor of Theology (Ordination Track) and a Bachelor of Theology (non-Ordination Track).

Biblical Studies
The Bachelor of Biblical Studies (BBS) is a degree that offers students a curriculum in the different aspects of the Bible, which include the Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospels. Students look at and interpret the Bible with a historical viewpoint and study religion in a philosophical way.

This degree discusses the practical aspects of ministry, and is often a precursor to becoming a pastor, missionary, evangelist, youth leader, Christian counselor, or worship coordinator. The biblical studies degree is primarily offered by Christian educational institutions, though not exclusively.

Skills You’ll Learn

Religious studies graduates gain many transferable skills during their time in school, such as:

  • an open minded and tolerant approach to other cultures
  • the ability to debate articulately without giving offence
  • an understanding of people and groups of people
  • good management skills
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the ability to express and communicate ideas clearly
  • problem-solving ability
  • research and investigative abilities
  • an ability to think logically
  • persuading and negotiating skills
  • taking initiative
  • being sensitive and empathetic
  • being creative
  • absorbing and retaining complex information
  • having abstract reasoning

What Can You Do with a Religious Studies Degree?

Graduates with a religious studies degree are a truly valuable commodity to a great number of vocational areas due to their understanding and open-mindedness in regards to other cultures. There are some particular career fields that might be especially well-suited to a graduate of religious studies, such as:

  • research
  • education
  • civil service
  • public relations
  • public policy
  • personnel work
  • media
  • business & management
  • charity
  • police
  • media
  • armed services
  • social services
  • information technology & computing
  • banking & investment
  • religious institutions
  • journalism
  • law
  • human resources
  • counseling
  • ethics
  • cultural affairs
  • business administration
  • advertising
  • politics
  • faith-based leadership
  • museums and archives
  • libraries
  • human rights


See which schools are the most and least expensive.

Read about Tuition